“I was very excited when The Authority came out by Warren Ellis and Brian Hitch,” Morrison says. “It seemed to take the notion of the JLA which I’d been doing at DC and advance it a little bit. It was kind of, what if the bastards were on our side? What if the left had these monstrous characters who would actually impose their will on the world? It seemed kind of exciting and interesting, but obviously as time went by, those type of characters seem to share some kind of DNA with terrorism, with authoritarianism, with all the things that became unpleasant.”
It’s part of the reason that the Authority introduced in this book only includes two members of that original team, Midnighter and Apollo (alongside Manchester Black, the full roster includes Steel, Enchantress, and new versions of Jack Kirby’s Lightray and OMAC).
“[The Authority] was great at the time, it was punk superheroes,” Morrison says. “But really it kind of trivialized world problems that then became bigger and bigger. So this was something different. This was, could we make an analog team that was like the Authority but wasn’t the original Warren Ellis, Mark Millar, Bryan Hitch, Frank Quitely Authority but took some of that attitude. It’s trying to capture that feeling but at the same time to interrogate it because it didn’t really work. A lot of what we hoped for, a lot of what the radical utopian left and the creative community hoped for didn’t really turn out the way we hoped or turned out in a way that yeah, that’s what we wanted but it was the bad guys who got it right.”
There are multiple villains in Superman & The Authority , from Superman rogues’ gallery mainstay Brainiac to noted DC hero corrupter Eclipso, but the Ultra-Humanite. The first true supervillain the Man of Steel ever faced (before this, he was mostly taking on crooks, corrupt politicians, and the like), the Ultra-Humanite pre-dates Lex Luthor as the ultimate exploration of villainous mind over superhuman muscle. An evil scientist with a penchant for swapping his brain into other bodies, a favorite being an enormous albino gorilla, Morrison found a decidedly modern spin for the baddie.
“He was Superman’s earliest superhuman foe and I love the idea of updating the whole thing so that it becomes this collective intelligence,” Morrison says. “In the old stories he would transplant his brain and sometimes he was a beautiful young actress and other times a monster ape. There was just something brilliant about, at what point do you lose your identity? At what point do you become something else if you can transplant your brain? If he’s got multiple bodies, what if he now has multiple brains? You can clone the brain and the brain just resets so there’s all these Ultra-Humanites who can assume different bodies and attack the world as a kind of viral or distributed threat.”
But ultimately, the conflict between Superman and Ultra-Humanite as envisioned here comes down to something much more simple and timeless.